'Terrorists' Who Made Good

by Philip Greenspan

March 11, 2002

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When I was a teen-ager I had a globe of the world. Britain and her colonies were light red and occupied one-quarter of the earth's land surface -- the sun never set on the British empire. The matching tints for France, Holland, Belgium, Spain, and Portugal depicted additional colonial land masses. Most of those land masses are nations that owe their existence to nationalists who today would be characterized as 'terrorists'.

Say, wait a minute; you're covering an awful lot of territory there. How are you defining terrorists, anyway?

Since the war on terrorism was declared, the word has been used so extensively that it has taken on enough meanings to keep semanticists and lexicographers busy for a long time. Everyone seems to use it to tarnish his personal choice of villains. Like beauty, terrorism is in the eye of the beholder -- what is a terrorist to one antagonist is a liberator to his opponent. A few possible definitions follow.

Definition #1: (From the point of view of the neutral observer) The guys who are upsetting the status quo.

Definition #2: (From the point of view of the aggressor) The guys who usurped our country and have been oppressing our people for too long a time.

Definition #3: (From the point of view of the aggressee) The guys who are trying to steal our property.

With the end of World War II national liberation movements against their colonial masters arose around the world. The atrocious conditions endured by the subjected populations were tinder for the ensuing conflagrations.

It was an auspicious time for the colonies to throw off the yoke of their masters. The major European powers were exhausted and prostrate from the severities of war. Their political future at home was very much in doubt. The former resistance and underground movements (considered by the Nazis as 'terrorists') had gained the confidence of their countrymen and seemed to be leading their countries towards communism.

The only major world power to emerge militarily and economically strong was the United States. It was more concerned with the future of Europe than the colonies.

Those European terrorists -- the communist parties in France, Italy, Greece -- were not only attacked by their political opposition but by the US using whatever tactics it thought might work. Those assaults were successful and the communists lost out. They were terrorists who did not make good.

The 'terrorists' who made good, in the colonies of Africa and Asia, were most likely extremely strong nationalists who had suffered like their countrymen under oppressive colonial empires; they were charismatic, idealistic and fearless, and had overwhelming support from the common people of their countries. The future for the people of those countries could only improve. Two typical 'terrorists' who made good were Sukarno and Ho Chi Minh.

The guns in the Pacific had hardly been silenced when Sukarno led the Indonesians against the Dutch and apparently became post WWII success story #1. While he was a real hero to his people, his policies did not find favor with the US. His government was composed of individuals from many political parties, including the communists, who had been elected to the Indonesian parliament. He also maintained a strict neutrality policy in the Cold War, rejecting the offer to align his country with the US in the South East Asian Treaty Organization. At the Bandung Conference, which he organized, he encouraged other third world leaders to join together and remain neutral. Because his policies were so objectionable to the West, General Suharto backed by a foreign power (guess who), was able to oust him.

I suppose Suharto is another 'terrorist' who made good. Right?

Not really. The countries that matter felt that Suharto had restored Indonesia to sensible rule from Sukarno's irrational detours. They would not characterize his coup as a terrorist action.

Ho Chi Minh attempted to expel the French from Vietnam and actually did. But that (guess who) foreign power did not give him much of a breathing spell before it was contesting his ability to make good. He finally made good but by that time he was dead and his poor country was devastated by its efforts to survive.

Look around the globe and almost everywhere you can spot nations that arose from post war liberation movements -- terrorist states that made good. But in addition to these newly formed nations there are some long-established nations who are descendants of 'terrorist' ancestors. Those older nations proudly proclaim the accomplishments of those formerly 'terrorist' leaders who now occupy revered positions in the history books of their countries.

Two of these nations came upon the scene about the same time, over two hundred years ago; had close relations with each other (although they were geographically far apart), and shared ideological principles. Their revolutions were more offensive, shocking, and scandalous to the then existing world powers than these more recent ones. The monarchy, long the established form of government, was threatened and because of terrorist successes over the years the monarchy was so diminished that those that still exist are ceremonial.

You've probably guessed it; those two nations are the United States and France; two of the world's major powers; pillars of rectitude; arbiters of international law and justice.

Yeah, sure, they have the power, so they can set the rules and judge them besides -- how can they not be pillars of rectitude!

But like their great power allies they opposed those new nations' attempts to eliminate the colonial empires. Seems they have forgotten their revolutionary backgrounds.

Not really.

While the French revolution was like most, an overthrow of the privileged by the exploited, it was limited to France itself -- the slaves in their colonies remained slaves.

The American Revolution, in contrast, was a revolution of the privileged who wanted freedom from their sovereign so that ultimate control of their government would be in their hands alone. They had no desire to help the underclass. In fact, they created a Constitution to specifically protect themselves from the underclass.

This is a little too much for me. You are contradicting so much that I learned. Many in that underclass, as you call them, fought with the revolutionaries.

Absolutely, and like veterans in most wars, unless they had locked in some benefits during the war, after the fighting was over their contributions were largely forgotten.

There were two distinct phases to the American Revolution. First there was the war fought against the British. The elite were most anxious that the poor would do the fighting and, like the good PR firms do today, enticed those unsuspecting poor souls to fight, suffer and die for them. There was justification for an overthrow of the monarchy. The time had come for a government, a democracy, that the political philosophers envisioned. The Declaration of Independence and Tom Paine's Common Sense created a patriotic feeling among all classes and the poor joined the fight.

The next revolutionary phase was the formation of the country. The elite wanted a government that would keep them in power, protect their property and suppress the underclass. And here again they succeeded by creating a document, the United States Constitution, that did exactly that. While they had difficulty in getting it ratified, by adding a Bill of Rights, which they did not want but which did not affect their goals, they not only succeeded in creating the government they wanted but won a public relations victory that has benefited them ever since.

Hold on now, not so fast. The Bill of Rights is an important and precious protection for all citizens, rich and poor alike.

Absolutely, but nowhere in all ten amendments is there anything that rectifies ungainly disparities of wealth or income, or alleviates economic hardships of any sort. The elite founding fathers could live with that.

Over the years the Constitution has been effective in controlling any uprising within the country. Terrorist actions are quickly extinguished and if the local authorities can't do the job the national government under the Constitution exerts its power.

If the framers were to have watched the course of American history they would have been very pleased. Not only has their beloved Constitution survived but it fulfilled all their hopes. The elite have been in the driver's seat throughout, though they encountered a few bumps along the way. They swept across the continent grabbing everything they considered of value. They snatched their share of the glove in the colonial grab bag. And currently they coerce foreign governments to adopt the correct policies. Policies that enrich them but trash the poor residents.

In considering that foreign policy another definition of a 'terrorist' is in order:

Definition #4: (From the point of view of the US) The guys who don't run their government the way we expect them to.

May I add an additional definition?

Sure. Go ahead.

Definition #5: (From the point of view of the underclass, the poor in foreign countries) Guess Who!



Blum, William. "Killing Hope," Publisher: Common Courage Press Monroe, Maine c1995; 457 pgs. US covert and military interventions in countries around the world since World War II.

Cobb, Richard and Jones, Colin, eds. "Voices of the French Revolution," Publisher: Salem House Publishers Topsfield, Mass. C1988; 256 pgs.

Hochschild, Adam. "King Leopold's Ghost," Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company New York, New York c1998; 366 pgs. The book is about a reform movement to oust King Leopold from his ownership of the Congo and describes the inhumane, genocidal treatment of the native population during the period of his ownership. Pages 278-283 point out that after the Belgian government took over conditions did not essentially change, and that similar conditions existed in the British, French, German and US colonies.

Zinn, Howard. "A People's History of the United States," Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York, New York c1980,1995; 675 pgs. History from the perspective of the ordinary citizens. Specifically covers the revolution and constitution and people's uprisings against the established order during that period.


Philip Greenspan's bio is concise and right to the point: 76 years old, married 50 years, 2 children, 3 grandchildren. Veteran World War II Army of the U.S. Graduate Brooklyn Law School, member of the NY bar. Private law practice, followed by employments in the motion picture industry -- distribution and exhibition, and data processing industry -- retailing and stock market; retired 6 years.

Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Philip Greenspan 2002. All rights reserved.

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Published March 11, 2002
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